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Hundreds protest prison farm closure

The last remaining cattle from one of Canada's last remaining prison farms were shipped away to auction today, despite the efforts of hundreds who showed up to protest the move.

According to a Globe and Mail report, more than 150 police officers faced off against several hundred protestors at the entrance of the Frontenac prison in Kingston, Ontario this morning. At least 14 people were arrested, in addition to nine who were arrested during weekend protests.

Last year, the federal government made the decision to close all six of Canada's remaining prison farms, in Ontario, New Brunswick, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan. Approximately 300 inmates were part of the program, which provided eggs, meat and produce for the prisons themselves, and often for local food banks.

The Conservative government said the prison farm program was no longer useful and cost $4.1 million more than it generated.

But, given the increasing support for food security and zeal for local eating, the move has been widely protested.

"For the Government to be selling off prison farms at this time is disgraceful. This protest demonstrates just how much the community cares about this issue," stated NDP agriculture critic and Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko in a press release. "The Government is once again ignoring the advice of the experts. These programs have received support from local police and municipalities as well as trade unions, farm groups and food security advocates."

Last March, The National Farmers' Union requested a reversal of the decision, pointing out that the farm prison program provided nutritious food as well as rehabilitation and job training skills for inmates. The union is now concerned that the arable land once farmed in this program will be lost to urban development, as will the valuable infrastructure (abattoirs, milk processing equipment, greenhouses, cold storage) that went with it.

Writer and activist Margaret Atwood also joined the campaign to save Canada's prison farms, calling the government's decision "dumb as a stump."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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